Archive for April 2010
by Washington’s Blog Global Research, April 29, 2010
Americans bailed out the giant banks. So how do the too big to fails re-pay the American taxpayers?
By betting that American states and cities will fail.
As the Wall Street Journal notes:
As U.S. cities and towns wrestle with financial problems, investors are finding a new way to profit on their misery: by buying derivatives that essentially bet municipalities will default.
These so-called credit default swaps are basically insurance contracts that have long been available to protect holders of corporate bonds against default. They became available a few years ago for municipal debt, allowing investors to short sell—or bet against—countless cities, towns and bridges, and more than a dozen states, including California, Michigan and New York.
The derivatives are still thinly traded, but their existence has the potential to make investors skittish.
Commenting on the story, Huffington Post points out:
Offered by banks like JP Morgan, Bank of America, and Citigroup, the so-called municipal credit default swaps can be used by investors to bet that insurance contracts protecting holders of municipal bonds will default.
Some states say the derivatives not only scare away potential buyers of municipal bonds by creating a perception of risk, but ultimately drive up states’ borrowing costs. Others contend that the instruments are traded too thinly to affect municipal bond markets or a state’s credit rating.
The California treasurer is just one of a number of state treasurers that have launched a probe into the sale of these derivatives and the sale of municipal bonds by big Wall Street firms that might reveal “speculative abuse of CDS in the muni market,” says one regulator.
Of course, if states or cities go bust, Uncle Sugar will need to bail them out.
So by letting the bailed out gamblers on Wall Street run amok, Summers, Geithner, Bernanke and the gang are increasing the odds that the states and cities of America – you know, the actual constituent parts which make up the United States – will need to be bailed out.
Of course, bailing out the states and cities in the first place would have given more bang for the buck than throwing money at the giant banks, especially given that the Federal Reserve has intentionally created incentives to ensure that banks will not loan out money back into the economy.
a worldwide ‘land rush’ that’s increasing world hunger without addressing the underlying long term threats to world food security
“The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands….People cannot believe what is happening. Thousands of people will be affected and people will go hungry.”
The Institute of Science in Society April 28, 2010
Grabbing the world’s ‘unused land’
In the past three years, foreign governments and investment companies have been buying or leasing vast tracts of farmland in Africa and elsewhere for producing biofuels or food for their own use .
This ‘land rush’ was triggered by the demand for biofuels, and accelerated  with the financial and food crisis of 2007/8 (see  Financing World Hunger, SiS 46).
Government policies promoting biofuels are based on the mistaken belief that fuels made from plants are ‘carbon neutral’, in that burning them would simply release the carbon dioxide fixed by photosynthesis and would not increase greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The European Union is aiming for10 percent of its transport on biofuels by 2020  (Europe Unveils 2020 Plan for Reducing C Emissions, SiS 37). George W. Bush, for his part, proposed to cure the US’ “addiction to oil” by increasing federal budget 22 percent for research into clean fuel technologies including biofuels to substitutes for oil to power the country’s cars  (Biofuels for Oil Addicts, SiS 30). The hope is to replace more than 70 percent of oil imports from “unstable parts of the world” – the Middle East – by 2025.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation helpfully identified immense areas of ‘spare land’ in developing countries that could be used for planting ‘bio-energy’ crops to be turned into biofuels. The World Bank’s recent report on the 2008 commodities price hike includes a diagram entitled  “The stock of unused but potentially arable land is enormous”, depicting more than 700 million hectares of ‘unused’ land in sub-Saharan Africa, and more than 800 m ha in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Corporate farming for the rich
International agribusinesses, investment banks, hedge funds, commodity traders, sovereign wealth funds, UK pension funds, foundations and ‘individuals have been snapping up some of the world’s cheapest land, in Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, Congo, Zambia, Uganda, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana and elsewhere. Ethiopia alone has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since 2007. Any land investors can’t buy is leased for about $1 per year per hectare. In many cases, the contracts have led to evictions, civil unrest and complaints of “land grabbing”, John Vidal reports in UK’s Guardian .
Nyikaw Ochalla, an indigenous Anuak from the Gambella region of Ethiopia now living in Britain but in regular contact with farmers in his region, told Vidal : “All of the land in the Gambella region is utilised. Each community has and looks after its own territory and the rivers and farmlands within it. It is a myth propagated by the government and investors to say that there is waste land or land that is not utilised in Gambella.